As an experienced RA at Appalachian State University I have a few things to tell you that can make your burdens a lot lighter, and I might even ease your mind about some things. I’m writing this article to let you know how very important the first two weeks of the semester really are to the community on your floor, on your staff and in your building. There are several things you can do at the very beginning of the semester that will make your job easier and more enjoyable, and the best thing is that these things are NOT hard to do.
Coming into your first year as an RA can be scary or cool, and it could be both, but hopefully this will give you some useful tips and information that will help you enter the semester with a lot of confidence. As I mentioned before, the first two weeks are probably the most important because they will set the tone for your floor for the rest of the year. What you do in these first weeks will determine what kind of community you will have on your floor, and in these first weeks your residents will form an opinion of you, and of residence life staff in general. Building great community on your floor is actually very simple.
First of all, GET OUT THERE WITH YOUR RESIDENTS, interaction and getting to know them is the best way to foster great community building. I have found that there is really no substitute for socializing and getting to know your residents on an individual basis. It lets them know you care and that you’re there for them, and it helps you assess the needs on your floor. Really, to your residents, this small act makes the difference in the RA that cares, to the RA that is just there.
A great opportunity to start making that impact is “check-in” day; it is a great chance to meet your residents and their parents (this is where you get your automatic degree in public relations). Help them carry something to their room, find out a little about them, introduce yourself, and let them know where you are located in case they need anything. As residents arrive you will find that since becoming an RA you are all knowing, so you will probably be asked a barrage of different questions. Try your best to answer them; and remember, you are a resource person. If you don’t know the answer, try and refer them to someone who might know how to better help them. When you meet them start to try and associate names with faces and room numbers. I know one of the hardest things for me is remembering a person’s name especially when you have upwards of 47 people to get to know! It is also nice to be able to say “Hey!!” with a name behind it; it tends to mean a lot more to people when you know their name. But don’t worry, it will come pretty quickly if you really take an active role in getting involved with your residents. You will quickly be able to put names with faces, know what they like and dislike, friendships on the floor will begin, and community begins to ensue on your floor before you even know it!
Another good way in the first couple of weeks is to really lay down what “community” is in your first floor meeting. The main purpose of your first floor meeting of the semester is to let your residents know about rules, what you are there for, tell them about yourself and what you expect of them. Make sure you come across firmly, because your residents need to know that you mean what you say, and the best way of doing this is follow up, being consistent with your actions reinforces ones words very well. A word of warning though, do not act like you are out to get your residents. Avoid a power trip because your residents will NOT respect you for that; rather, they will dislike you. We as RA’s are here to facilitate good community, to be resources for our residents, and to make the adjustment to college life easier. I’m not saying to ignore your duties, but don’t just look for someone to write up; this is not a good way to build community. In your floor meeting, especially for your freshmen (if you have any), let them know where they can find things. Be a good resource person for your residents.
Another important key to starting off well is to be accessible to your residents. Let them know that you are there for them and that they are welcome to stop by if they need anything. You can post your class schedule, your meeting times, etc. outside your door so that your residents know when you won’t be available. The community on any given floor is only as good as the RA that is facilitating it. A big influence on the floor obviously is the RA. We are in place to foster community on floors, and if you are never there, how do you suppose that’s going to happen? So make it a point to try and be on your floor as much as you can, not all the time though, because everyone needs a change of scenery. Just make sure your residents know they can depend on you (your staff and RD will also appreciate this).
Another very important key to having good community, not just on your floor but also on all the floors in your respective hall, is to have good staff community. Get to know your staff members. Do things with them, and try your best to be there for your staff members. You will be working very closely with these people, so it is definitely in your best interest to be on good terms with them. If the community amongst a staff isn’t very good, then the community in the building is probably not the best it could be. So really try and have good staff community and unity, which will foster community much better on each floor as well. This can happen through staff development exercises that occur during the first couple of weeks. This will probably happen automatically, but just make that extra effort to get to know everyone on your staff very well. It will pay off in the end. Not only will there be a better overall community; friendships will grow and your staff members will be more willing to help you out in a pinch. This will make your experience as an RA more meaningful.
If you are concerned about how to get to know people, here are a few tips:
• Spend a lot of time out on your floor, and avoid staying in your room with the door shut all the time. This will send the wrong message to your residents.
• Be willing to have spontaneous programs with your residents (i.e. renting a movie, watching a game, playing sports, study groups, eating with your residents, etc.); these are the best for really getting to know and having fun with your residents. You also need to consider educational and need based programming, but spontaneous programming is the kind that lets you get to know people much better (in an informal way). Also, to help people be able to get to know you better, the best advice I have is to just be yourself (I mean, that’s what got you into the position your in anyway).
• Be as accessible as possible and be a good resource person, but also help your residents to be able and solve problems on their own if at all possible.
• The key is being consistent. This will let your floor know how you operate and they will know what to expect from you, and therefore be more comfortable with you.
I know this all seems overwhelming, but it quickly becomes natural to you. It really is necessary to try and do all of these to the best of your ability for the sake of community on your floor, community in your building, good staff relations, and to make things easier on yourself. It is necessary to start doing all of this within the first two weeks, because it is the best time to establish yourself on staff and on your floor. I’ve found that all of this information really does make for a great community, which is one of the huge reasons why we are doing what we are doing as RA’s. As you gain more experience, you will see all of this a lot more clearly.
Good luck…I hope you treasure your positions as much as I do, because it can be a real blessing.
Submitted by Bo Clarke, Resident Assistant, Appalachian State University